Characteristics and soft skills of a personal trainer – what type are you?
This week, I want to delve into an important yet often overlooked aspect of personal training- personality traits, talents and the soft skills. It is essential for a personal trainer to have their core knowledge and competencies; from anatomy and physiology, through to the ability to tailor aspects of the exercise protocol to the individual in front of you. However, this is only a part of the reason you will attract and keep clients.
Your ability to interact with clients and potential clients will play a greater role in the long-term success of your business than expensive equipment and your understanding of the minutia of exercise.
We are going to look at personality traits and talents, a combination of the innate and the learned/acquired. These are aspects of the individual that can be nurtured, influenced and adapted.
I am going to focus on five key areas of relevance to the personal trainer;
- emotional intelligence
- coaching and communication
- analytical skills
Your current standing in all these areas will impact all your interactions with your clients, potential clients and colleagues. You may or may not like everything that you believe speaks of you throughout this article. Awareness of your current strengths and weaknesses can make you more open to self-development. You can increase your awareness of aspects that are effortless and easy for you and conversely the areas you may want to focus on improving.
With that said, let’s begin with our first key personality trait.
If you are an extrovert, you will probably already recognize yourself as the life and soul of the party. You are usually energetic and energized when around other people. In the gym environment, you will enjoy interaction and happily engage in conversation before and after your workout if not during! The extrovert finds small talk and banter enjoyable, it doesn’t take away from your day it adds to it, life without regular playful interaction would be far too dull.
It is likely that you feel at home in a busy gym and are more than happy with other people watching you train. In fact you likely feed on it and perform better when you have an audience. You probably know nearly everyone at the gym you go to and love getting others around you pumped up, it is all part of the fun!
At the other end of the spectrum that has extroversion at one extreme, is introversion. Those, who have a tendency toward introversion, likely shy away from peak busy times at the gym whenever possible as they feel less comfortable being watched when they train. If you are an introvert, small talk holds far less value for you, and you may find having to engage in it awkward or even tedious. You may well prefer training at home alone, or in a more private training environment. Unlike the extrovert, whose energy typically increases when they are around others, yours starts to drain relatively quickly, leaving you feeling fatigued. Time alone will boost your energy levels back up.
The introvert personal trainer needs to be particularly aware when they are working with an extrovert client and vice versa. The needs of the two individuals in this dynamic can be at odds. The introvert PT will need to boost up their energy and interaction levels with the extrovert client and the extrovert PT will need to calm their energy and manner when training an introvert. A meeting in the middle will likely feel very satisfactory for both trainer and client after a handful of sessions together.
The introvert PT’s manner will mean that they attract more clients of a similar disposition, and the extrovert will likely draw individuals who are at least somewhat more extrovert themselves.
If you lean toward extroversion
Use your natural gifts to bring energy to the room, to interact and motivate. You are going to do great front of house. Remember to calm your energy and excitement around those you sense are at the other end of the spectrum. It is likely that you operating on a 7/10 will be more than enough to benefit the introvert, anything more might alienate them. Sitting in the back room planning alone, and writing endless programs is likely to challenge you somewhat. If you start your own business solo, as a personal trainer, it will often require chunks of time spent alone arranging the mechanics of your business. Perhaps you would be best off working out of an already busy gym, or going into business with 1 or 2 others to ensure that the potential loneliness of starting a business does not spoil your enthusiasm for this career. On the plus-side you will have no fear of getting out there self-promoting, networking and drawing attention to yourself/your gym.
If you lean toward introversion
You are going to need to focus on upping your energy when training most clients. You will need to schedule alone time breaks to re-energize yourself throughout the working day. 10 minutes quite reflection or time spent on your laptop will probably re-energize you far more than a team meeting or having to join in with front-desk banter, especially if you spend most of your day client-facing. Your calm and understated approach will suit some clients, but if you sense a need for more interaction, feedback and pre- and post- workout banter with some clients, you will need to focus on improving your ability to do so.
The next characteristic that I want to cover is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is about handling your own emotions, and your relationships with others. If you score highly here, you have good awareness of your emotional needs and the needs of others, you have empathy and people will describe you as caring.
If you have high emotional intelligence, you are genuinely interested in the lives of those you interact with, you will be good at reading people and anticipating their needs. You empathize with others and find people recognize this in you and are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Occasionally it may take you an extra beat to realize when someone is taking advantage of your good nature: “If I can keep Mark engaged in conversation, I don’t have to do the leg press for another 2 or 3 minutes!”.
An individual who lies at the other end of the spectrum, is not particularly interested in what makes others tick at an emotional level, nor indeed their problems. They may also be quicker to anger and lose their temper. They don’t understand why some people are so emotionally driven and “touchy or soft” and are usually reluctant to engage with the emotions of others. They tend not to be aware or care if they are perceived by others as curt or even rude.
High emotional intelligence
Being emotionally intelligent is a good thing, it will help you to read clients, to understand what they are looking to get from your service. You will easily recognise a client’s energy level on a given day and you will adeptly handle clients who become emotional during workout sessions. It certainly does happen: the sensitive client can find working to MMF a very emotional experience. If you are very high on the emotional intelligence scale you will need to navigate the oft fine line between personal trainer and therapist like a pro.
Low emotional intelligence
Those with low emotional intelligence may well find they lose clients, especially those who are emotionally sensitive in nature. If this sounds familiar you will need to temper what others perceive as your rudeness. If you are lucky some clients may respond to the “hard-task master”, but rubbing too many people up the wrong way will make it tough for you to forge a sustainable personal training career. It would be wise to challenge yourself to develop a greater awareness of your own emotions and your ability to read and respond to the emotions of others. It can start out as something simple and physical such as learning to perceive when a client is becoming too warm (and therefore uncomfortable) in the exercise environment and pre-emptively offering to turn the fan towards them. Start with little things, raising your awareness of other’s comfort levels when they are in proximity to you, or if you are already a trainer when they are in your gym.
Coaching and communication
The ability to coach and communicate well is a critical skill for the personal trainer, whether it comes naturally or is developed. Ultimately it is essential to the success of every personal trainer.
Important traits of the effective coach include the ability to adapt their communication style to the different individuals they work with. This includes the ability to help people conceptually grasp the exercise you are introducing them to via mastery of analogies, similies, metaphors, story-telling skills and even humour.
The great coach is also confident in holding their clients accountable. As important for success as being self-motivated and self-driven is, those who seek out and employ a personal trainer are looking to offload some of that responsibility onto the trainer. Clients need to have the essential component of self-determination (internal motivation) for sustainable success, they will also benefit from the guide, the motivator, the trainer prepared to help rectify flaws, as well as praising and reinforcing correct actions.
Patience is another critical trait of the successful coach. Some clients will get what you say and translate that into positive action effortlessly, others will require more attention, more repetition, more coaxing, nurturing and reinforcement. The extent to which you are prepared to invest in a client is up to you. You may find there are individuals who you feel are just not worth your time investment, who draw such an energy demand in comparison to most. It is valuable to be able to recognise this and do so out of choice, not just because you lack the patience or the skills. I have found it beneficial to specifically treat very challenging clients as a test of my ability as a trainer… “If I can coach Mr. X to get it, then I can work with anyone.” I find this a very useful attitude/perspective to employ with clients who push up against the borders of your patience threshold.
As a Personal Trainer
- Focus on supporting the client to reach their goals
- Hold them accountable
- Ensure you are able to communicate with the individual effectively
- Focus on assisting the client to refine their exercise technique
- Help the client adhere to their exercise routine.
Are you a master of data and analysis? Do you spend a lot of time pouring over your clients’ workout charts, calculating time under load, rep and weight improvements? Is tracking and charting your thing? The analysis-focused personal trainer will be drawn to the raw data of training, looking to extract patterns and conclusions from client charts. You may also be drawn toward tracking other measurements too such as heart rate and heart rate variability.
Details are king to this type of trainer, they will be looking for a precise application of protocol and exercise technique in their clients. They will be up on the all the most recently published research papers. They can never get enough information on exercise, and often need to continually reinforce their currently held perspectives with more data. They believe the devil is in the details and they are going to do all they can to tease it out.
The client who has a strongly analytical personal trainer can be sure that the trainer will have put a lot of effort and energy into writing their routines, the arbitrary will be kept to an absolute minimum, you can be assured of that. Ask them why a routine contains an exercise or why the routine follows a sequence and the trainer will have a ready answer. The likelihood is they will have agonised over writing the best routine possible for you.
If you recognize yourself in the above, the potential downside to all this focus is that you may find yourself in the trap of paralysis of analysis, overly questioning protocol, routine selection and exercise order. You may be looking for a level of perfection in these elements that doesn’t exist or verges on the irrelevant. This trainer may also focus down on the clipboard or tablet whilst training clients, missing the human in front of them that is currently giving their all and in need of support, correction and motivation.
The leader is self-disciplined and adept at motivating him- or her- self. They will often receive the compliment from others that they are inspirational. The leader is focused on the big picture, driving their business forward to future successes. They are good at getting the best out of those around them with what appears to be a natural charm, whilst having a genuine care and concern for the individuals in their sphere of influence. This applies to clients too- the leader acts ethically and in their best interests. The leader will not over sell, over promise or exaggerate just to sign up a new client- they want to provide excellent value and the desired results to their client. The leader will surround themselves with positive people who are moving in the same direction as them or at least sharing the path for a while.
The leader has learned to focus on the important things in life and business, the elements that truly matter, those that will accelerate their forward momentum. They have managed to eliminate or minimize negative self-chatter, time wasting and procrastination.
As a personal trainer, the leader will live by the principles that they teach their clients- and in this sphere that applies to exercise and nutritional habits. They will be checking out and trialling new elements of the exercise protocol, equipment and nutritional information all with a mind to passing this information on to their clients when they have understood it for themselves. The leader will enjoy finding new ways to keep their clients engaged in the process of developing fitness and have a strong desire to see clients achieve and exceed their own expectations- every client is a success story in progress.
Processes are important in all businesses, the leader will likely be a boundary expander, rule breaker and risk taker to a certain extent. Not content to simply follow current business practices instead pushing them, bending them, breaking them if they need to be broken and starting anew. The current standards are not set in solid stone for the leader they are clay ready to be moulded into a refined form better suited for the world of today and tomorrow.
The leader will have an excellent client retention rate, most of the time clients who start with them will stay with them, and this is in large part due to the fact that client satisfaction is of major importance to the leader.
All successful personal trainers will need to be a good leader as to some extent it is intrinsic to the very nature of the role the personal trainer plays in the lives of others. Are you excited by that opportunity and responsibility?
We have had a close look at 5 key personality traits and talents particularly relevant and important to the personal trainer. These aspects include:
- emotional intelligence
- coaching and communication
- analytical skills
Are you ready for a little self-exploration?
If so, then you are ready to use our quiz to discover where you land on the scale of each of these traits and talents. There is no right or wrong and these aspects of you can be somewhat fluid. You can focus on areas that need it whilst consolidating and naturally benefitting from your strengths. Insight is valuable, as is self-reflection especially when used as foundations for future action. Take your results and make them inspiration for change.
As Socrates stated: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The quiz will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses as a personal trainer, and it should take you 5 minutes to complete.
Have something to say? We’re listening!
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